By Sagarika Ghose

The BJP and RSS are umbilically tied through a mutually beneficial relationship. Bhagwat’s comments are merely a ploy to obtain more power from a weakened Modi.

Aweek after the 2024 Lok Sabha election results were declared, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the secretive parent organisation of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, emerged out of the shadows. RSS head or Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat publicly lambasted the “arrogance” of leaders.
But Bhagwat’s pointed remarks came a little too late. For a decade, the RSS has worked closely with the BJP, infiltrated a range of government bodies and lapped up as much as it could of state power and privileges. For it to now lament about “arrogant leaders” is nothing but hypocrisy and double-speak. The RSS is very much part of the same arrogance.
Speaking at an RSS meeting in Nagpur on 10 June, Bhagwat inveighed against the BJP’s functioning in light of the electoral setback. He did not name anyone but, in comments widely seen to be directed at Narendra Modi, said, “A true sevak maintains dignity. He follows decorum while working. He does not have the arrogance to say ‘I did this work’. Only that person can be called a true sevak.”
Bhagwat also deplored the foul language used during the election campaign, called for a solution to the Manipur violence that has raged on for over a year, and asked the ruling party to respect the Opposition.
Modi is still prancing about in a delusional alternate reality. He’s still in irrational denial about the results, posing for photo ops and blindly dashing to a G7 summit to take selfies with international VIPs. Yet, he barely won his own seat (Varanasi) and his party survives on the oxygen supplied by allies such as TDP and JDU.
Bhagwat is doing what Modi is refusing to do: Plunge into a bout of introspection.

Two sides of the same coin
The fact is that the RSS, for a decade, has been entirely embedded with the Modi government. It played a not-so-secret role throughout the 2024 campaign, mobilising support for BJP candidates, and using its vast networks to devise politically geared controversies and whip up rumour campaigns to benefit the BJP.
For example, it has been widely alleged that the Sangh Parivar played a role in West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali, a media frenzy that was switched off like a tap as soon as the results came in.
BJP president JP Nadda attempted to flex his muscles over the RSS when he said toward the end of the election in May, “In the past, we were weak and needed the RSS, [but] today the BJP runs itself.” Perhaps Nadda was throwing the RSS a cloak of deniability, pushing the line that a big BJP win was the BJP’s and Modi’s alone.
But make no mistake, the BJP and RSS are umbilically tied at multiple levels. The hydra-headed Sangh Parivar, with its myriad outfits including the BJP, are all linked to the ultimate ideological fountainhead, which is the RSS.

Questions for Bhagwat
Important questions need to be asked of Bhagwat. First, where was the RSS, supposedly opposed in principle to “vyakti puja” or hero worship, when the outsized Modi cult was being built by a range of hired PR agencies and a captive mainstream media?
When Modi strutted about toppling governments, directing abusive language at Opposition leaders and jailing chief ministers, where was the RSS’s lament against arrogance? It was perfectly fine with arrogant leaders while it was netting them votes.
Second, would Bhagwat have spoken out about the RSS’s so-called “principled” stand on respecting the Opposition and not treating it as an adversary, had the BJP hauled in over 300 seats, as it was hoping to? No, a “400 paar” showing would have allowed the RSS to keep on silently enjoying all the perquisites of state power.
Third, why has Bhagwat suddenly discovered the virtues of consensus-building and the pitfalls of lies and abusive language? After all, the BJP has pursued the politics of polarisation for a decade, name-calling the Opposition as members of various “gangs”, dismissing the Opposition in Parliament, and uttering the totally undemocratic cry of “Opposition-mukt Bharat”. In fact, this polarisation was exactly what the RSS wanted.
Fourth, why is it only now, after an election defeat, that Bhagwat has awakened to the need for healing in Manipur? Violence has raged in the state for a year: More than 200 people have died and 70,000 are displaced.
Don’t try to fool citizens, Mr Bhagwat. There is nothing “principled” in your speech. It is cunning, duplicitous, and a pretence to occupy the high moral ground. All you want is for a weakened Modi to hand you an even greater share of whatever spoils of power he still possesses.

‘Get in and spread out’
Sternly kept away from the state structure for decades since Independence by the Nehru-Gandhi dispensations, the RSS craved access to high government offices.
Walter Andersen and Shridhar Damle’s book The RSS: A View to the Inside shows that the RSS was drawn mostly from the families of lower division office clerks and stationmasters or the provincial middle class of Tier 2 cities. So it has always been agog with excitement at the prospect of entering the “commanding heights” of the state hitherto reserved for the English language-educated elites.
When the BJP first came to power in 1978—as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh constituent of the Janata Party—the slogan that went through the cadres was “ghus jao aur chha jao” (get in and spread out).
As this opportunity opened, the RSS rushed in, eager to fill posts wherever it could. But the Janata Party government was a weak coalition that soon collapsed under its multiple contradictions.
Over the Modi decade between 2014-2024, the BJP and RSS shared a close relationship based on mutual benefit. A majority government ensured the RSS’ triumphant march into state or quasi-state bodies, whether it was university councils, foreign relations bodies, cultural organisations, or cinema institutes.
For two years, protests greeted the appointment of BJP-aligned Gajendra Chauhan as head of the prestigious FTII in Pune. The JNU VC has publicly declared she is “proud to be associated with the RSS.” Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, for years an unknown RSS ideologue heading an obscure Sangh think tank, is today the president of the high-status International Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), founded by Maulana Azad in 1950.
The Vajpayee years of 1998-2004 were very different for BJP-RSS relations. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a parliamentarian prime minister for whom the electoral process was sacrosanct. He was determined to keep the RSS out of government.
Vajpayee was of the view that the executive space and the right to wield government power belonged only to elected representatives. He resisted the RSS’s K Sudarshan on the choice of finance minister, butted heads with the RSS’s labour leader Dattopant Thengadi (who once famously described Vajpayee as a “petty politician”) and attracted the ire of the VHP’s Ashok Singhal for not moving fast enough on the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
It was the RSS triumvirate of Sudarshan, Thengadi, and Singhal who were at the forefront of attacks on Vajpayee. No wonder the RSS fulminated that Vajpayee was only a “mukhota” (mask) and they were the real power.

RSS and Modi: A shifting power dynamic
Modi has been far more artful in his dealings with the RSS. Not only has he allowed them to capture the state posts they adore, but he has also given the RSS the impression that he is fulfilling their ideological agenda. Lacking its own cadres, the BJP depends on the RSS for an army of foot soldiers at election time.
The prime minister has craftily created a model in which he enjoys absolute power in return for allowing the RSS a few cultural and educational institutions as their playthings. It’s been a win-win for both.
But in 2024, the BJP falling short of a majority has changed things dramatically. Forget “400 paar,” BJP could not even cross 272. It lost in the Hindutva heartland of Ayodhya (Faizabad seat) as well as SC and ST constituencies that the RSS has tried to mobilise for decades. Moreover, after Bhagwat, RSS member Indresh Kumar spoke out against “arrogance” having stalled the BJP at 240 seats.
So far, Modi has refused to acknowledge the mandate. But the power dynamic between him and RSS, which was once firmly tipped in his direction, has now begun to shift away. If it becomes clearer that Modi has been transformed from a vote catcher to a vote repeller, then the Sangh will not hesitate to look for other options.
It may well start preparing to dump Modi if the so-called electoral asset turns into a stale, ageing liability.
Modi’s much-hyped, manufactured ‘aura’ is gone. So has the RSS’s blanket endorsement. With a weakened Modi, the RSS, so far relegated to subordinate status by a larger-than-life Modi, is pushing for a greater role.
So, will the RSS push to create a new political arrangement immediately? Or will it wait for a more consensual leader to emerge? Will it push to appoint a deputy PM or try for a change at the No. 1 slot? These are all open questions.
For the moment, the RSS is caught in a bind. By staying silent when a divisive, arrogant, and domineering Modi was alienating voters, it dug its own grave. Now, by finally speaking out, it may have lost the moral high ground it so prizes: You can’t desperately covet the fruits of power and still claim to be oh-so-distant from it all.
(Edited by Prasanna Bachchhav)

Courtesy: The Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 65 = 66